TLE Spotlight: Cambridge Public Schools

Steve Smith of Cambridge Public Schools represented one of 28 districts involved in helping to inform the Trusted Learning Environment program. Here, he shares his thoughts on how the program was helpful to his work and how others might leverage the TLE program to build and improve their compliance programs.

Why did you decide to apply for the TLE Seal?

We saw the seal as a way to confirm that our student data privacy practices were in fact in line with national standards and expectations. We also saw the process of aligning our internal practices to the TLE requirements as a way to ensure we were not missing any components of a comprehensive privacy program. In addition the ability to add to our transparency with the community by displaying the TLE seal was very appealing.

When it comes to developing and improving your school system compliance program, what do you find most challenging?

Currently, the most challenging piece of maintaining the privacy program is bringing along all the eternal third parties that manage portions of our student data into our compliance program. Overall the K-12 ed tech provider community is making progress towards ensuring best practices are followed when handling student data, but there is still work to be done to streamline the process of engaging vendors with secure and trusted platforms.

What did you learn by going through the application process?

The TLE application illustrated to me just how large and complex a comprehensive student data privacy program is. Completing the TLE application allowed us to see, all in one place, all the moving parts to the program.

How do you refresh your compliance program each year? What steps do you take to ensure that the program is constantly improving?

Our Student Data privacy program is constantly in the forefront of everything we do. In CPS, the culture has shifted such that there is great awareness by all members of our staff and community around student privacy. In a culture such as this, the compliance program is an organic evolving practice that is changing on an ongoing basis. Once the foundation is laid that all student data will be protected, and there is an understanding of this throughout the organization, the practices, procedures and policies continue to evolve as the use cases, laws and technology evolve.

What advice do you have for future TLE Seal applicants?

The TLE is not a one shot goal. It is best utilized if seen as an outline of goals to develop a robust student data privacy program. I would encourage any school district that is begriming to have conversations around student privacy to look at the TLE as a guide to best practices to create a Trusted Learning Environment down the road. It will not happen overnight.

For more on the Trusted Learning Environment Seal Program and how it can help inform your school system’s compliance program and create a simple way for you to communicate your data privacy and security efforts within your community, visit

Also, make sure to register for Behind the TLE Seal: Trusted Learning Environment Stories on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 from 1:00 – 2:00 pm ET.


Steve Smith is the Chief Information Officer for Cambridge Public Schools and has spent over 20 years as a CTO/CIO in K-12 education. He is currently Chief Information Officer for Cambridge Public Schools, Cambridge MA where he oversees all Educational Technology, Library Media, Data Management, Media Arts and IT services for the district. Recently Steve has spent a great deal of time navigating student privacy issues in the school and greater Cambridge community. Steve serves as the State of MA representative to the National Forum on Education Statistics and is a member of the Forum's Education Data Privacy Working Group. In addition, Steve is a contributing member to the CoSN Trusted Learning Environment project as well as the A4L(SIFA) International Consortium for Student Data Privacy. Steve is also a founding member of the Massachusetts Student Privacy Alliance.